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Special Education Alert: Senate May Take Up Amendment to Weaken IDEA Protections for Children with Mental Illnesses and Other Disabilities

For Immediate Release, May 9, 2000
Contact: Chris Marshall

The Senate is ready to debate once more the difficult issue of "cessation" of education services for children with disabilities who bring a weapon on to school grounds. As in the past, this contentious issue is being brought up in the context of a larger bill - the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (S. 2).

Senator Ashcroft (R - Missouri) is the sponsor of the amendment. It adds drugs, assaults, and threats of assaults to weapons as events over which local school authorities could suspend or expel disabled children. It would not require that there be a finding as to whether the offense was a "manifestation" of the child's disability. Schools would have the option of serving or not serving a child during suspension or expulsion. The right to a free and appropriate public education, FAPE, would not be guaranteed. It is not yet certain when the amendment will be offered.

This provision would effectively undo the carefully negotiated discipline provisions that were contained in the 1997 IDEA reauthorization legislation. In NAMI's view, it has the potential to undermine vital protections provided by the IDEA for children with severe mental illnesses--including the very right to a free and appropriate public education. It allows each school district the choice to cease all educational services ("cessation") to a student with a disability who carries to or possesses a weapon at school or at a school function; brings drugs to school; commits or threatens to commit an assault at school.

Schools are already given ample authority under the 1997 law to maintain environments conducive to learning. For example, a student with a disability who brings a gun to school can be immediately removed from school. Schools can immediately call the police and report crimes committed by students with disabilities. If the behavior of a child is not related to the child's disability, the child can be disciplined in the same manner as non-disabled children. While education services cannot be terminated, a child can be removed from his home school and placed in an alternative setting.

Moreover, law enforcement agencies across the country report that ceasing education services for any child only increases juvenile crime. In fact, research demonstrates that cessation of education services leads to increases in illegal drug use and youth incarceration as well as in juvenile crime. Rather than releasing troubled children to the streets, a portion of the solution is to require all students, disabled or non-, who are expelled or suspended to continue their education in secure, supervised educational settings.

Families of children with disabilities are concerned about school safety. In fact, these families know that too often their children are the victims of inappropriate conduct.

Action Requested:

  • NAMI encourages child advocates to contact their Senators and urge them to oppose the Ashcroft amendment to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (S. 2).

  • Urge them to oppose efforts aimed at undermining free and appropriate public education for children with severe mental illness, and at wiping out important rights protections under IDEA. Remind them that the Ashcroft amendment will have a devastating impact on IDEA and the education of children with disabilities. All Senators can be reached by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or by going to the policy page of the NAMI website at http://www2.nami.org/policy.htm and clicking on "Write to Congress." Senators can also be reached through their state offices (phone numbers are available through www.congress.org).


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